NL Cy Young Award Rankings: Zack Greinke Is Back, Wade Miley Says Hello
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With a national ESPN audience watching Sunday night, R.A. Dickey didn't give the performance everyone had hoped to see from him. But should one bad start against the New York Yankees knock him from the top spot in our NL Cy Young Award rankings?
There's not much change among the top contenders this week. But one pitcher broke his way into the top five, while another pushed into the honorable mentions. We could come up with a top five list of honorable mentions with so many pitchers having excellent seasons in the National League. But we tried to keep it manageable and snubbed some deserving pitchers in the process.
If you disagree with the order of our rankings, feel a particular player was snubbed or think we're cheating with all the honorable mentions, please voice your opinions in the comments. Your suggestions are definitely considered when putting this list together, even if that's not always reflected in the week's rankings.
So with all the explanations and qualifiers out of the way, here are this week's five leading contenders for the NL Cy Young Award.
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Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
After weeks as the front-runner, Gonzalez slips off the top five this week. Unfair? Well, probably.
Gonzalez is still second in the NL with a .191 opponents batting average. His 108 strikeouts trail only teammate Stephen Strasburg, and he's one of two pitchers mowing down more than 10 batters per nine innings.
Gonzalez's last start was a rough one, as the Rockies battered him around for five runs (four earned) and eight hits in six innings. The four earned runs were the most he'd given up since his first start of the season. He also allowed two home runs in a game for the first time this year.
James McDonald, Pittsburgh Pirates
After pitching a complete game in which he held the Twins to one run, McDonald was roughed up by the Phillies in his following start. Actually, it was his worst performance of the year thus far. McDonald allowed a season-high four runs and two homers, while only striking out two batters.
Despite that, McDonald still ranks among the five best pitchers in the NL with an 0.98 WHIP and opponents batting average of .200. His 2.44 ERA is also one of the 10 lowest among the league's starting pitchers.
Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks
If not for Bryce Harper, Miley might be the leading contender for NL Rookie of the Year right now. He's allowed one run in each of his past four starts. That stretch has decreased his ERA to 2.19, the third lowest in the NL.
Miley's 1.01 WHIP ranks fifth in the league, based on him walking 1.79 batters per nine innings. Opponents are batting .216 against him, which puts him among the top 10 NL starting pitchers.
5. Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers
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Last Week: Honorable mention
This isn't an attempt to boost Zack Greinke's trade value, though Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin might appreciate that effort.
Greinke is putting together an excellent resume all by himself. In his past two starts, Greinke has allowed two runs and eight hits over 15 innings. He only struck out seven batters, yet walked two.
Those two games pushed Greinke's ERA down to 2.82, the lowest it's been since he pitched seven shutout innings in his first start of the season. Baseball-Reference ranks him as the third-best pitcher in the NL at 2.9 wins above replacement.
One red flag for Greinke is that he's pitching far better at home than on the road this season. At Miller Park, Greinke has a 4-0 record and 1.08 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 41.2 innings. Outside of Milwaukee, his record is 5-2 with a 4.03 ERA. In 60.1 innings, he's struck out 50 batters and walked 14.
The question now is whether or not Greinke finishes this season in a Brewers uniform.
4. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
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Last week: No. 4
In two starts since last week's rankings, Johnny Cueto allowed two earned runs and nine hits in 13 innings. He also struck out 12 batters while walking only five.
Cueto may have earned two wins for his effort if not for Madison Bumgarner pitching a one-hitter on Thursday night. (I'm sure Giants fans are wondering why Bumgarner isn't on this list. Ryan Vogelsong, too. That's an excellent question, one that definitely needs to be considered over the next week.)
With those two games, Cueto has reduced his ERA to 2.26, fifth best among NL starting pitchers. But Baseball-Reference currently rates Cueto as the top pitcher in the league at 3.3 wins above replacement. Quite an improvement from last week, when he was second with a 2.8 WAR.
Cueto might not look as impressive in terms of strikeout numbers, averaging 6.60 per nine innings. But he's had to become more of a ground-ball pitcher because of Great American Ball Park, and he's made that transition successfully. Almost half of Cueto's outs this season have come on grounders.
3. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
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Last week: No. 3
After facing AL East teams in his previous three starts, pitching against an NL lineup was apparently an adjustment for Stephen Strasburg. For the first time in his past four appearances, he gave up more than two runs!
Strasburg's six-game win streak came to an end on Monday against the Colorado Rockies. He allowed a whopping three runs and six hits in six innings. Giving up just three runs at Coors Field is impressive for any pitcher.
The Nats' ace leads all of baseball with 118 strikeouts, averaging 11.80 Ks per nine innings. His 2.69 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and .217 opponents batting average all rank in the top 10 of the NL. Fangraphs rates him as the second-best pitcher in the league at 3.2 wins above replacement. Baseball-Reference has Strasburg tied for fifth with a 2.6 WAR.
Strasburg's next start will be Saturday against the Braves. In two starts against Atlanta this season, he's compiled a 2-0 record, 3.00 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 12 innings. So is he due for a bad game the third time he faces the Braves, or will he continue to dominate the Nationals' division rival?
2. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
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Last week: No. 2
If Matt Cain had a "bad" start following his perfect game in allowing three runs and six hits in five innings against the Los Angeles Angels, he rebounded nicely in his next outing. Facing the Oakland Athletics, Cain pitched seven innings, allowing one run and three hits to the Giants' interleague rivals.
Name the pitching category and Cain's name is near the top of the list. His 0.90 WHIP leads the big leagues and an opponents batting average of .195 ranks fifth in the NL. Cain's 107 strikeouts are the third-highest total among NL pitchers. And his 2.27 ERA is the sixth best in the league.
Even if you just want to keep it simple and go by wins (which has never accurately reflected Cain's value), his nine victories is tied for third in the majors.
Cain faces the Reds in his next start, one of two teams that's tagged him with a loss this season. Even then, he allowed only three runs, arguably pitching well enough to win. However, that game was at Great American Ball Park. Cain probably won't serve up two home runs at AT&T Park.
1. R.A. Dickey, New York Mets
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Last week: No. 1
R.A. Dickey has shown some excellent timing by putting together his best season when he has a memoir available in bookstores and a club option year remaining on his contract.
Dickey was the story in baseball last week after pitching consecutive one-hitters. His success and compelling personal story was drawing attention outside of sports. The natural next step was to shut down the New York Yankees, right?
So it was a little bit surprising when he had one of his worst games of the season on national television during ESPN's Sunday night broadcast. Dickey allowed five runs and five hits in six innings. Not great timing there.
However, the bad night was a reminder of how improbable Dickey's success has been this season. As he said himself (quoted by Newsday's David Lennon), the knuckleball is a fickle pitch. Those who throw it aren't completely sure what will happen. Dickey's seeming ability to control it, something we've never really seen from a knuckleballer, made his story that much more amazing.
For now, we'll chalk this up to one bad start. It happens to the best pitchers. Dickey is scheduled to face the Dodgers next, and they even have trouble scoring runs against Barry Zito, so he should rebound nicely.
However, if Dickey has another bad game, there are plenty of pitchers ready to take over as front-runner for the NL Cy Young Award.
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